ANTRIM – A state committee will begin discussions today about whether to approve a controversial wind project in Antrim that’s pitted several residents against town officials.
The Antrim Wind Energy project calls for nine wind turbines on the Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain ridge line off Route 9. It’s the first wind energy project the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee will hear under its new rules, which include assessing the visual impact a project would have on the surrounding area and adding stricter regulations on sound levels coming from projects.
Antrim Wind seeks to generate a total of 28.8 megawatts of electricity, which would power 12,000 homes, according to the project’s application.
In an attempt to address environmental concerns with the wind turbines, Walden Green Energy, which owns Antrim Wind, has agreed to protect 900 acres of forests and wildlife habitat in conservation.
It’s also proposing a one-time payment of $40,000 to the town of Antrim to enhance the Gregg Lake Recreational Area, a payment in lieu of taxes agreement providing revenue to the town for the first 20 years of the project’s life, and a $100,000 land conservation funding agreement with the New England Forestry Foundation for it to acquire new conservation land in the region.
The N.H. Sierra Club, New England Forestry Foundation, all four state representatives whose constituencies include Antrim, and The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire have all filed briefs in support of the project.
The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee denied an earlier version of the Antrim Wind project, which called for 10 wind turbines producing a total of 30 megawatts of electricity, in 2012.
In July, the subcommittee of the site evaluation committee voted, 5-2, that a new version of the project was different enough from the previous application to be considered a new project. The vote cleared the way for the committee to review the latest proposal today.
During the past several months, those for and against the project have submitted testimony, exhibits, attended hearings and been subject to cross-examination by attorneys representing Antrim Wind or the public.
While Antrim selectmen have backed the proposal, several residents, including abutters of the proposed wind farm, haven’t.
In a post-hearing brief filed last month, intervenors Mary Allen, Charles Levesque and Chris Wells, all of Antrim, reference three town meeting votes where the majority of participating residents voted against zoning ordinances to allow for large-scale wind energy development. They also call out the selectmen for signing a payment in lieu of taxes agreement that Allen, Levesque and Wells say isn’t in the best interest of the town.
“Over the 20-year life span of the AWE project, the Town of Antrim will receive $14.2 million in revenue,” they wrote. If property taxes were collected, “the Town would receive approximately $19.9 million in property tax revenue.”
The trio further wrote that the project is proposed for an area that the town’s Open Space Conservation Plan identifies as part of the highest importance for protection.
And even though Antrim Wind has vowed to conserve 900 acres of that land, it’s not the same as if it were left alone, they said.
“Mitigation is NOT the same as conservation and preservation,” they wrote. “Monetary gifts and post-construction easements are ‘weak tea’ after valuable land has been used for industrial purposes,” they wrote.
Antrim selectmen say in their testimony to the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee they believe the project will benefit the town, ConVal Regional School District, the region and the economy.
The payment in lieu of taxes agreement will result in Antrim Wind paying the town approximately $324,000 a year, making it the town’s largest taxpayer, according to the selectmen’s testimony.
Selectmen also point to the conservation efforts that will be made by the project’s developer as a benefit to the town and region.
“We believe that the conservation easements that Antrim Wind has proposed will have lasting economic and social benefits because they will promote tourism, recreation and responsible forestry,” they said in the testimony.
Besides today, the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee has set Friday and Monday as days to continue project deliberations if needed before deciding whether to approve the project.
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